Mae Jemison: First African American Female Astronaut Lives Out Childhood Dream

As a little girl, Mae Jemison always wanted to go into space. "I remember people used to try to tell me why women shouldn't be involved in space exploration, and I always thought, this is nonsense," she said. "And what I understood as a little girl back then is that you don't necessarily have to agree with other people's choices about limiting you."

Jamison's early love of science and curious nature brought her to Stanford University at the young age of 16, where she studied chemical engineering. Jemison went on to become a doctor and serve in the Peace Corp, but her dream of going into space never left her mind. Jemison finally made it in 1992, when she became the first African American female to go into space. As the Science Mission Specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, which according to NASA orbited the Earth 127 times over the course of eight days.

Said Jemison: "The first thing that I saw from space was Chicago, 'cause I launched on the mid-deck of the shuttle. My commander called me up as we were doing our first orbit around, and he said, 'Mae, look out the window.' And I thought about that little girl who used to assume that she would go into space, and how she would have this grin on her face."

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While on Endeavor, Jemison described her role as a representative for the primary investigators who were going to have their "life's work" go up on shuttle. But she wanted to utilize her position and perspective as the first African-American woman in the Astronaut Program.

Said Jemison: "The big part of being the first woman of color in the entire world to go into space was asking myself the question, 'What difference does it make if you have a place at the table, knowing that there are people who have been left out of space exploration for years?' It was important for me to bring those perspectives to bare, and to open things up. Because the only way that things will, will move forward is if we include everyone."

She left the astronaut program after her mission and went on to start a foundation and work as a professor. Her latest adventure is the 100 Year Starship Project, an initiative to insure that the capabilities of sending humans to another star system exists within the next one hundred years.

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"What we're doing is suspending disbelief," she said. "Think about it. You know, a little over a hundred years ago, people didn't think we could fly. Now we can't imagine our world without flight

The bottom line for 100 Year Starship is that we believe that pursuing an extraordinary tomorrow creates a better world today."

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